Samir (Sam) Stewart O’Brien, 39, died peacefully on May 23, 2023 at 9:43 am at Granada, his home of 21 years in Spring Valley, California. Samir was admitted to at-home hospice in late February, and up until the last week before his death, enjoyed simple outings and visiting with friends and family and eating his favorite foods at Chili’s, Olive Garden, and Casa de Pico.
Beginning (Birth to three years)
Sam was born on May 25, 1983, in Charlottesville, Virginia to Shobhana Rishi (then Shobhana R. O’Brien) “Shobha” and William A. O’Brien, “Billy.” By two months, Sam was diagnosed with the oculocerebroerenal syndrome. The oculocerebroerenal syndrome, also known as Lowe syndrome, was first described by Lowe, et al. in 1952. It is a rare, x-linked recessive multisystem disorder that includes cataracts/glaucoma, renal failure, and developmental delay. Heartbroken and fearing for their son, Billy and Shobha sought consultations with experts in Washington, D.C. In Charlottesville, Dr. Bruce Carter, pediatric opthalmologist treated his cataract and glaucoma with outstanding success as Sam never required subsequent surgeries and was able to enjoy fairly good vision. During those early years, Samir was affectionately embraced by his aunts and uncles and cousins. During these early years, Samir often spent weekends with Shobha‘s Mom and Dad. His grandmother Aie has fond memories of his colorful personality. She tells, after a nice oil massage and bath he would love to eat rice and daal and then take a long nap.
Years of change (Three to eight years)
In 1986, the family moved to San Diego, California where Billy had accepted a position at the University of California San Diego. Billy, Shobha, and Adam arrived first and his Aunt Shanta brought Sam a couple of weeks later. Shanta remembers the plane ride vividly, little Sam sitting next to her rapt in his favorite song tapes...adorable with his glasses and headphones-—made everyone who passed him stop and smile... there was always something special about him. Within a year of moving to California and after painful deliberation and consideration, Sam’s parents decided to place Sam in the home of Joe and Lynn Elmore of Ramona, CA where he lived for 5 years. In 1991, after his parents’ divorce, Sam was moved to be with Kathy Nelson. All of Sam’s extended family here in California, on the east coast and in India, always kept him in their thoughts and prayers. We believe all those prayers certainly were fruitful because he could not have had more love or better care than given to him by Kathy Nelson and her team. Sam grew up with two moms, Kathy and Shobha. His aunts Pam Washington and Shanta Dube, their husbands, and his cousins used to come out and take him to eat at his favorite restaurants and go to Disneyland. Many friends and family members visited Sam throughout his 31 years in Spring Valley with Kathy. Sam also visited Shobha a few times per year up until 2017 and made friends in El Centro, Modesto, and Sacramento.
Life with Kathy (Eight to almost forty)
Landing in Kathy’s home---meant also taking root in her heart. Once planted, Sam blossomed. Kathy provided Sam a home environment of stability, safety, fun, and love. Kathy’s love and passion for her kids created a space where Sam learned rapidly to walk, talk, and enjoy social life. Anyone who watches Kathy knows she runs a tight ship and they would also agree that the most powerful ingredient in the Kathy Way is her own presence-— it is what keeps her kids happy and her team focused on what she has set as their clear priority at all times: giving the best possible care to the residents. Sam’s life with the other residents (Kathy’s Kids) was full of comradery and laughter and weekly activities that included soccer, hockey, bowling, swimming, Padre games, and vacations to Catalina, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Idyllwild, Julian, Big Bear, Ensenada cruise, San Francisco, Disneyland, and Knotts Berry Farm. Shobha accompanied them on several of these and reports that Kathy’s bunch really knows how to enjoy life. Thus, Sam grew up with two moms and an extended family!
Growing up with Kathy, Sam attended Casa de Oro Elementary, La Mesa Middle, El Cajon High School, St Madeline’s Sophie Center. Everywhere Sam went, he made friends and is remembered as a special person who touched a lot of peoples’ hearts. Shobhana visited Sam regularly at Granada—and there his roommate of 24 years, Isaac was a big brother to Sam who was there through Sam’s good times and bad (bad only due to heartaches caused by hard to please damsels!). One night Shobha was spending the night at Sam’s when she heard them talk and giggle long into the wee hours of the night in their secret lingo! So many times of love and joy to remember...….like saying goodnight to Grandma Clara each night.
At Kathy’s they have traditions. . . . for every holiday and more. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, St Patrick’s Day, Valentines Day, and birthdays are celebrated by the extended family which includes Walter and Myra and Clara and Barbara and Marie and their extended families and friends. One tradition enjoyed by all, specially Shobha, is when the gang at Granada would call her on New Year’s Eve to sing Happy Birthday to her. All of Kathy’s kids, big and small, participated in sports of one kind or another through Sports for Exceptional Athletes. Sam has been a life-long member of Special Olympics and then Sports. What an amazing journey it has been!
Samir—son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend
If you knew Sam, you know he loved music, jokes and playing with language. He also loved writing poems with Shobha to send to the ladies he adored. Sam knew just what to say to whom and when to say it. His interpersonal brilliance and ability to connect intuitively with people outshined all of his other capabilities. He knew how to break the ice --- and start a conversation—with a memory like an elephant he could recall a detail from years ago. He could punctuate his speech with a smile, a laugh, a grunt, a sigh, and that sweet Sam touch. What you did for him and gave to him paled compared to what you got back. Sam also knew what he liked and did not like and he let you know in clear terms! He had favorite names for his friends and phrases that could not be repeated often enough-----it is hard not to remember his voice and his utterances so perfectly timed which would pierce you to the bone—“I love you”. “you’re wonderful”. “Hey, Sam Do you loooove me?” “I am sorry” “Thank you for visiting me” “I miss you” “Don’t leave" "are you gonna ignore me?" -- each one was personal yet universal.
Sam lived the days of his brief but full life with courage, love, and humor-—-he knew when to bend and when to hold his ground. He loved each person uniquely and was polite, gentle, and politic in his choice of words. It is hard to find a better example of a person doing more with what Nature gave him. Samir made you feel like a better human being. Samir’s life is a testament to the power of Spirit over matter. Sam, we love you forever.
Friends, we hope you will share some of your own favorite stories of Sam.
Sam is predeceased by his half-brother, Darius Arctander O’Brien. He is survived by his father, William O’Brien, mother, Shobhana Rishi, brother, Adam O’Brien, and his half-sister, Setareh O’Brien Rossman.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Sports 4 Exceptional Athletes which Samir loved so dearly. He named his team the “Cheese Enchiladas!” You can learn more about their activities at s4ea.org.
A Celebration of Life in honor of Sam will be held at the Ronald Reagan Community Center, 195 E. Douglas Avenue, El Cajon, CA at 11:00 - 1:30 on July 30, 2023. We hope you will join us.